Poll: Young U.S. workers have trouble achieving independence

McClatchy NewspapersMay 13, 2010 

WASHINGTON — Americans aged 18 to 29 are living at home longer, receiving significant economic support from family members and unsure whether there's value in getting a college degree, according to a Heartland Monitor poll that insurance giant Allstate Corp. and the magazine National Journal released this week.

The poll queried the so-called millennial generation, defined as 92 million Americans born from 1981 to 1992. The results also suggest that these younger working-age Americans see fewer job opportunities and value job security more than they do pay.

Allstate CEO Tom Wilson discussed the poll and other topics with McClatchy.

Q: What did your survey find about millennials?

A: You see this economic bridge between generations. Forty percent of millennials get direct financial support from their parents or relatives. A third of them live in their parents' houses. If you're just looking at the 25s and over, about 25 percent of them get money (from family). . . . It could be in part because of the economic situation. I think it's longer term than just the current (situation).

The other part of it, which doesn't show up in the poll . . . 40 percent of grandparents are the primary caregiver of the grandchildren.

Q: This illustrates the economic strains on families. Should that give pause to making serious changes in how social welfare programs such as Social Security and Medicare are funded?

A: To the extent we change those programs, we have to be cognizant of the impact they'll have on millennials. It does not mean we shouldn't change them. Everyone knows you need to fix it; the millennials say you need to fix it. But we have to recognize there will be a secondary effect on the millennials, which we will need to factor into our solution.

Q: You also found that recent college grads are starting their careers $37,000 in debt and question the utility of their degrees?

A: If you ask millennials if going to college is a ticket to the middle class or success, about 45 percent say yeah. About an equal number say no, it's not worth the money. Part of the reason is it takes you until you are 33 or 34 years old before you break even. But the other part is when you say to them, "Is your college education helping you in your job?" half the people say no.

Q: If fewer people decide to go college, the pool of future workers narrows. Did the recent opening of an Allstate call center in San Antonio reflect this?

A: Six hundred jobs in San Antonio and 7,000 people show up. A surprisingly large proportion, from our standpoint, are not qualified. And we're not talking about being doctors or lawyers . . . we're talking high-level jobs that are $13 to $15 an hour. If we don't have that kind of work force that can help us serve our customers here in America, that's a problem for us. . . . It's a disaster waiting to happen in a democratic society that is based on capitalism. It's sort of like here's a gun, go to war, and they don't teach you how to shoot it. What good is that?

Q: In your view is the economy improving?

A: We're starting to see a little bit of pickup in auto sales, a little pickup in home sales. We'll see what happens now that this homebuyer credit expired. But we are starting to see a little more activity there. That's driving up the number of (car and homeowner insurance) quotes and opportunities to get more customers. The biggest thing for us is we have to keep more of our existing customers. . . . We're going to be launching some new marketing campaigns.

Q: Does that reflect an expectation of stronger economic growth?

A: I think it's a sign that we think the economy is more stable today and on a sounder footing today than it was two years ago.

Q: What about the global economy?

A: We feel good about where the stability in the U.S. economy is. We're nervous about Europe. We don't have a lot of exposure to the four inappropriately "acronymed" countries. (The debt-ridden PIIGS: Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain.)

Asia seems to be on its own; it's decoupled a little bit. Not Japan, but the growing economies in Asia seem to have figured out how to sell stuff to themselves, not just us, which I think is a good thing.

So we're feeling better about the world economy, we're feeling better about the U.S. economy, but I still think there will be periods of volatility. And I'm not just talking about last week's stock-market bump and Greece. There are other unpaid bills yet to come due. One of the unpaid bills is municipal borrowing.

(Editors: FD conducted the poll April 22-26. A telephone poll queried 1,200 American adults and had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points. At the same time, 1,021 adults aged 18 to 29 were surveyed online, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.)

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Heartland Monitor poll

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